Hey! Listen! Here’s an uncontroversial opinion: films based on video games are bad. A less uncontroversial opinion – but still a surprisingly rare one – this will change. soon.
Roughly each year for the last decade has seen two or three adaptations winging their way into multiplexes and bargain bins nationwide. Often without fanfare, occasionally with muted expectations, every now and then with sheer bafflement. Even the not-bad ones are not good.
It’s not that there aren’t good video game-based films out there – The King of Kong and Indie Game: The Movie inevitably spring to mind – but these share the unmistakable virtue of not being adaptations. When even the man behind a bona fide success based on a ruddy theme park ride can’t get a video game franchise off the ground, it all looks less than promising.
Yet a great adaptation will come; Hollywood wills it and thy will be done. A built-in fanbase, a realised universe and/or characters and no shortage of franchises ready to be spun out into sequel after spin off after sell out is a very attractive proposition for an industry where proven ideas are worth their weight in blow.
Lest we forget, we’ve gone through this before. Comics, most visibly, have made the bumpy but richly rewarded journey to the silver screen, and now so have toys. I don’t have examples available but I’m sure that when they were adapting the first book to screen – I dunno, the Bible or something – it was a little iffy too.
Presently the industry has a genuinely promising roster on its hands; alongside several long-gestating projects like Hitman and Uncharted, the next two years should yield adaptations of Splinter Cell, Assassins Creed, World of Warcraft and The Last of Us.
Cell and Creed might make phenomenal pictures courtesy of intense portrayals of their intense protagonists by intense stars (Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender respectively) but more likely is they’ll make serviceable action films with some fancy costumes and dodgy accents.
World of Warcraft? We’ve been through this before, when Sam Raimi was tapped to direct. Now it has turned to Duncan Jones (he of Moon, Source Code, David Bowie’s scrotum) looking at a 2016 release, twelve years after the game actually hit shelves. For so long looking like it might ape the significant squib Halo and collapse under its own weight, it actually looks as though this one is going to get a release. How it will fare is anyone’s guess.
But the great byte hope? It’s an apocalyptic (there is no need for post in this genre unless Kevin Costner’s involved) tale of a beardy man and a plucky girl surviving.
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was one of the best games to come out of last year alongside tales of a portly Italian plumber in a cat-themed body suit and the travails of a sweary trio of bank robbers. One of those has already been adapted to the big screen and it’s not the sweary one.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, TLOU sees Beardy (Joel) and Plucky (Ellie) in a world gone to pot as the population finds itself at the mercy of deadly spores turning everyone into walking funghi. Over fifteen hours the pair experience genuine character development, bereavement and mortality, occasionally taking time out to whack people in the face with pipes. Why should that translate to a successful film?
Beyond the usual marketing spiel about preserving what is so precious to the established audience as well as taking measures to bring a whole new audience to this shared experience, there are some genuinely positive signs around TLOU. For starters, Neil Druckmann, the game’s Creative Director, is tapped to write the script while director Bruce Straley is also onboard. Additionally, Ghost House Pictures, a company overseen by one Mr Sam Raimi, a man who knows a thing or two about standing ground against an intrusive studio, are co-producing; having sold 3.4 million copies in three weeks, TLOU wasn’t short of options when the studios came a’knocking.
Often there’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t when it comes to adaptations. Adhere to the source and risk alienating punters and cutting out swathes of context, deviate from the source and risk turning away the fans who might make up the most ardent supporters before it’s even released. And yet, evidenced by Naughty Dog’s staunch alliance to their unconventional ending, there is seemingly a genuine concern around creating moments that tally with the studio’s vision. This is a collective that takes its time over quality releases, if applied to its cinematic realisation, it should hardly be a concern.
Look online and the overriding memories aren’t so much shivving plant-people in the kidneys but of the ample conversations and scattered remnants of humanity encountered; they’re of the little moments that brightened the suffocating darkness; they’re of giraffes, oh the giraffes!
It could be a great movie if all these facets form a beautifully savage whole; it would be a great movie if just some of them came close.
For now, arguably the best adaptation we’ve got is a John Hillcoat short released to promote Red Dead Redemption way back in the year that was 2010. As with TLOU, Red Dead was a high earnin’, well actin’, rootin’ tootin’ success from a single-minded studio with ample sales in the bank. Hillcoat used some pre-existing footage to create a linear narrative that traded on tone and depth and it’s the best we’ve got. But not for long.